Friday, September 27, 2013

What's My Foodportunity?

(No matter what... it is on it's way - 
October 28th, 6pm - 9pm, Palace Ballroom, Seattle, WA)
This is an entry for Keren Brown's Foodportunity Contest: The question - What's your Foodportunity?  What opportunities has food brought your way, and what has the event meant to you, or what would you like it to be?
My own surprising journey with food and my own online presence is what I'm sharing.

A long time ago, and not very far away (the north end of Lake Washington), I found myself with a toddler, a husband who travelled A LOT and the decision I had made to let full-time teaching go, and do full-time mom (and all auxiliary jobs) instead.  I knew myself well enough to know that I could only be great at classroom teaching or mom-ing, but not both.  I knew if I tried to do both one would suffer, and then the other would suffer too.

So I went with mom.  Teaching would always be there, but messing up the mom thing, seemed singularly lacking in do-overs.  

Whoops!  This is when he's a bit older and
broke the other arm.
But you get the idea.

I mean there’s the time until he’s 3 where he doesn’t really remember much (except when he fell and broke his arm and then later told me, “Mom, you should have caught me.”  But a few years after that he doesn’t remember telling me that, so now that’s OK too.)

If I was going to leave my classroom behind, I wasn't going to quit teaching.  No way.  Can't even do that while I'm supposed to be on vacation.
Yes, I'm the one in the white shirt
holding the crab.
Yes, they are strangers.
Yes, I'm explaining.

One thing I really enjoyed as a kid was the sporadic garden we had, and thought it would be fun to do the same with my boy.  For starters, I figured the best move was to go out and see a really big garden in action.  Which was how I found The South 47 Farm, and the Farm Tots program.  We started with raspberries,

and pumpkins,
next thing I knew I was teaching there.
And my boy was getting dirty there.

Once I get involved deep enough to start teaching something, two things happen;  I want to know more and more, and people expect me to know stuff.  On the farm, that turned out to be, “what to do I with Rainbow chard?”

This was the fateful question, which I answered, “Oh, just cook it like spinach.”  The the immediate next question was, "So how do you cook your spinach?"  Clearly a little more guidance was needed.

And people wanted to know what to do with green tomatoes, and summer squash, and beets and pumpkins and kohlrabi and…. Well, you get the idea.  And I would try tell them things too.  

Amazingly enough, it is hard to take in new information when you have one kid wriggling under your arm, and another one doing this:

or this:

So I started out searching for a cookbook that these parent could go out, get their hands on and use to answer all their questions.  One that focused on cooking in an ad hoc way from farm stands, and Farmers Markets, and even the dreaded, never delay-able weekly CSA (veggie) box.  I never did find the right thing. 

All the books assumed a certain comfort with cooking-in-general that many of these parents just did not have.  And then, some of the books had odd recipes (celeriac with apples, mustard and mayonnaise?  parsnips and miso?) that would not be appealing to toddlers or even adults taking baby steps into the world of new and strange vegetables.  Or the books were gorgeous, enormous, coffee-table toppers full of 20-ingredient gourmet recipes.  

And some books would spend a bunch of time stressing the importance of red celery, particular tomatoes, cheese pumpkins, and lots of other things the farm I was working on didn’t grow.  

That is not really how going to a farm stand or a Farmers Market, or looking into a CSA box ever works.  Going in with very fixed ideas about ingredients often leads to disappointment and then frustration.

But all of that research left me with a head full of ideas and opinions.  So I decided to drain my head a bit and start my own little (ulp) blog.
Hey look! A picture
of the blog in the blog... how meta. 

The idea of creating a pamphlet for the parents popped up out of that.  It was never adopted, and the Farm Tots program went on hiatus, but I had this seed of an idea throwing up shoots.

And that wasn’t the only thing throwing up shoots.  This house we moved into, up at the north end of Lake Washington came with a planter of chives.  These things are bullet-proof.  They get snowed on, neglected, dried out, divided and given to teachers, yet each and every spring they do this:
and a little bit of this:

I figured if chives thrive on neglect, cutting and occasional repotting, I thought I’d try out a few other herbs.

Let's see... oregano,
marjoram, the chives again,
and, oops!, weeds.

Over wintered parsley
and sage.

Dill and some more oregano.

Then I got all cocky and thought I’d start gardening.

I found a class for clueless gardeners at Dog Mountain Farm in Carnation with the amazing Cindy Krepky (also a fellow scientist!)

photo - © Dog Mountain Farm, LLC
and buit a garden.

(Some labor may have been procured through tricky parent methods...)

Peas at last.

All this researching and digging (and cooking and eating) left me with more to share.  I kept learning, kept exploring, and kept writing.  And most of all I kept letting the science teacher in me have free rein.

While all this was going on, I noticed some really interesting links to my blog – the question forum for ChefSteps (the online free courses supported by Modernist Cuisine) was referencing my entry on sous vide dry bean cookery. (And now its the top google hit when you type in "sous vide beans").  My sous vide yogurt testing and onion caramelization expanded on the basic info I found on SVKitchen.  Wow!  Way over here, back in my corner, I'm still getting to teach - if in a limited way.  And then, I got an offer to take the pile of pages and ideas I was dithering with, and turn it into a cookbook.

How did this all happen?  By working hard at the things I loved.  By getting back into that research and explore mode that keeps my up late, and my head spinning with ideas.

But in all that hard work and awesome, something important was missing,

 the other people; 

Yes, you two have TONS of personality,
but you are terrible at holding up your end
of the conversation.
their excitement and enthusiasm, passion and knowledge.  

So when I was at a point of excruciating limbo in the book creation process, Foodportunity October 2012 popped up on my horizon.  I’d been slavering over the idea of it for a couple of years, but had never had a good enough reason to put my foot down, and jump through all the hoops required for me to go out late on a Monday night.

2012 was the year I got there for the first time.  And it had better not be my last!  The adventures in one evening were amazing.  The most memorable were:
I met Jill Lightner of EdibleSeattle, and got some of her Whidbey Island beans to plant in my garden (my 1st heirloom seed hand-to-hand transfer).  
I got to talk to some of the chefs from Le Petit Terroir, who’s menus lurking in Woodinville wine tasting rooms had been making me drool, and hear about (and sample some of) their meat curing adventures.  
I got to chat with the super knowledgeable bar tenders who work at the Palace Ballroom, and exchange favorite drink recipes.  
I got my hands on my first dumplings from Din Tai Fung, and got to talk dim sum (I finally got myself over there – totally worth the wait – just have a plan for waiting.)  
And found Marx Foods, the Willy Wonka destination for Seattle Foodies, full of the most delectable, delicious and audacious specialty foods I have ever seen (honey wine vinegar, delicata squash seed oil, unbelievably exotic, yet scrumptious meat selection – lamb, rabbit, duck, boar etc. etc. etc!).

And there was so much more, and I was so busy enjoying myself, I didn't even come close to taking it all in.

This year, I’m hoping to add to that knowledge and passion buzz.  With my new cookbook

I’m all about helping the home cook stop fearing the weekly pace of the CSA box, or passing by the adorably tempting baby turnips 
just because you don’t know what to do with them.  

I want people to try that exotic fruit or vegetable, and ask the farmer for a good way to cook it.  

But that doesn't mean I plan to let  my (older) blog lag.  It will continue to be the place where I play with hair-brained ideas about Filipino Adobo (is it still adobo if you add coconut milk?), 

Not exactly adobo with coconut milk says the jury, but darn tasty all the same!
attempt to tame the cruelly bitter Treviso radicchio (not going so well...),

share a few things to do with the newly appearing (in Seattle area Farmers Markets) luffa gourd, 

Peel off those tough ridges,
or cook them very thoroughly to soften them.
and my currently brewing brainstorm on an exploration of the amazing world of Washington state small batch gin. (Basil smash anyone?  I recommend Seattle's Ebb & Flow as the base.)

No matter what... I'll see you there!

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